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The Rise Of The Record Club

The Newport Record Club has become a bona fide Thursday night institution in Fremantle as it celebrates a diversity of classic albums.

The-newport-record-club

The Newport Record Club has become a bona fide Thursday night institution in Fremantle as it celebrates a diversity of classic albums.

The Newport Record Club has become a bona fide Thursday night institution in Fremantle as it celebrates a diversity of classic albums.

By Polly Coufos

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To some people who don’t like to look (or think) too hard it must have seemed like the bargain of the year. Crowded House and Paul Kelly playing at the Newport Hotel on a Thursday (tonight, in fact!) in December. For $20.

Steve Parkin and Malcolm Clark are the brains behind the Newport Record Club, where local musicians choose and faithfully perform a classic album. They were shocked to find themselves needing to defend the seemingly indefensible. It is unclear if the same people that were outraged to find that Messrs Finn and Kelly were not actually heading West to share their respective greatest hits collections, were also miffed that The Rolling Stones had no intention of showing for the Sticky Fingers night, or that The Beatles had not prepared Abbey Road for the Newport punters. The recently departed David Bowie (Hunky Dory) and Prince (Purple Rain) were missing on their nights of Record Club, as it is called by fans, as well. 

Despite the absence of dead or alive international rock stars, the crowds that have filled the Fremantle cafe strip venue on a regular basis since June, 2014, still seemed to be having a great time.

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With typical good humour Parkin offered a refund for anybody who felt duped by the unambiguous artwork. You can’t please everybody obviously but there are many people who love the concept.

“We are at just under 80 shows and we have played to 25,000 people. We have generated nearly $250,000 which has mostly gone to mainly original musicians,” Parkin says with more than a touch of pride.

Parkin, mainstay of the local music industry since the 1990s, should be proud of what he and Clark (The Sleepy Jackson) have been able to build in the past two-and-a-half years. Record Club has had many positive effects on both performers and the public alike. Audiences get a show with high production values while local musicians get to play the music of their favourite acts before good sized crowds and earn a reasonable return for their efforts. 

Parkin is the first to admit that the idea is not wholly original.  In the early part of this decade he was living in Melbourne and working in St Kilda’s Pure Pop Records. Owner Dave Stevens had hosted a series where local Melbourne musicians would perform classic albums from start to finish in a tiny adjacent court yard.

The joy experienced by performers and audience alike stayed with him. After resettling back in WA, he caught up with old friend Clark, who had an idea he was bursting to share. He was very keen to put a band together to play along to a screening of Alan Parker’s movie adaptation of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.  Parkin, who has enjoyed his greatest success as part of Basement Birds, was in. Remembering the Pure Pop experience, he suggested that they should think a little more grand than that and make their The Wall as part of a series of performances of classic albums. Stevens readily gave his blessing to the enterprise.

The next job was to sell the idea to a venue, and even more importantly to local musicians, who for the most part had made their name and reputation on playing strictly original music. The Newport was quickly targeted, in part because Parkin recalled they had a great band room and he wanted every part of this to be a pleasant experience.  For people that have not been out to pubs to see bands for a while, the Newport would be instantly familiar. Not quite a beer barn of yore but a welcoming room that is obviously and agreeably purposed for live music. 

The affable Parkin found convincing friends not quite so easy. (“I started in the ’90s and I remember the indie ethos that you wouldn’t play covers unless it was ironic.”) The first album was Lou Reed’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal. The Date were selected to debut the series from a field of, well, one. Most of the participants in the first season were mates Parkin was able to convince to take part.   He estimates there were around 60-70 people there the first night. Not terrible for a Thursday night in a town where people have seem to have forgotten about going out to see live local music, but not great either.

It built steadily as word spread. The indie crew seemed to get the passion and intent with which each of these albums was arranged and performed. The breakthrough came midway through the first season with Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Three of the city’s brightest talents in Timothy Nelson, Steve Hensby and Lucy Peach were part of the band, named Fleetwood Rack for the occasion as they recreated that ’70s classic. A few weeks later The Wall provided the finale for that first season.  The joint was packed and Record Club was on its way.

Then, as now, Parkin and Clark did not pick the albums nor make suggestions to musicians.

“We have had a lot of guitarists and bass players etc, coming and saying, ‘we want to do this record can you put a band together?’  The answer is always no because A: we are just way too lazy and B: we encourage musicians to network together. A lot of different musos chat down there and talk about what they would like to do. I think it would fall down if we were to dictate what is done.”

That has meant that as well as classic rock acts you would expect to be celebrated (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Hendrix, U2, The Eagles) there have been the likes of Sonic Youth, Arctic Monkeys, Weezer, Tool and Pantera celebrated on a Thursday night in the heart of the port city. 

The seventh season has been programmed. Parkin is not giving much away but he is prepared to name two albums that audiences can expect to experience: Metallica’s Ride The Lightning and Elvis Presley’s Greatest Hits.

“I was in a band called Autopilot in the ’90s and we were trying to sound like the Beatles when everyone was trying to sound like Sonic Youth so I have never been cool This was not about cool, this was about local musicians getting the chance to show off and play. 

“Ken Watt does the sound and he knows the room back to front.  Ken will spend all week listening to an album, even if it is something he doesn’t particularly like. Malcolm spends hours on the visuals.” As to his own involvement on a weekly basis, Parkin says, “I do a crappy Rock Wiz quiz in the middle.”

It is crappy too. They have nailed the production values but the Record Club team want to make sure that it does not become too slick. This is still about a genuine local music experience, one that they hope will encourage punters to go and see the musicians around town performing their original music.

“The musos spend an incredible amount of time learning an album when they all have day jobs and day bands. Our whole idea was that we need to step up to the effort the bands are putting in. I think that’s a big thing.

“What’s a classic album? It’s relative. To be fair we haven’t had anything super new. We did Elliott Smith and then Beyoncé which was a lot of fun. I would love someone to do Tame Impala. I’d love more Aussie albums.”  

See you tonight. Just don’t expect Neil and Paul to be there, okay?

The Newport Record Club, Thursdays at the Newport Hotel, Fremantle. 

facebook.com/recordclubroadshowWA

 

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